Vivisection is the practice of using animals for scientific and medical purposes.

Arguments for

The Research Defence Society (RDS) is a British organisation set up to defend animal testing. It claims that most of the accusations made against vivisection are inaccurate, and that animal testing produces valuable information about how new drugs react inside a living body. Tests are carried out to identify major undesirable effects such as liver damage, raised blood pressure, nerve damage or damage to the foetus. It says that drugs can be altered by digestion, and become either less effective or more toxic, and that such problems cannot be investigated using cell samples in test tubes. Uncaged, MRMC and Professor Croce all argue that in vitro (test tube) experiments are at least as accurate and often more accurate than animal tests.

Albino rabbits are commonly used in the Draize tests, which check for eye irritation. The rabbits are chosen for these tests not because their eyes are similar to human eyes, but because they are cheap to obtain, are unlikely to bite their handlers and have relatively large eyes which are easy to observe. Rabbits have different eyelid and cornea structure to humans, and are less able to produce tears, making the Draize tests unreliable in predicting human toxicity.

All mammals, says the RDS, have the same organs as humans, performing the same functions and controlled by the same mechanisms. It claims that differences between animals and humans could lead to exciting new developments. For example, a mouse with muscular dystrophy suffers less muscle wasting than a human patient. If we could find out why, we could discover a treatment for the disorder.

Some animal hormones have been used successfully in humans. They include insulin from the pancreas of pigs and cows and thyrotropin from the pituitary glands of cows. Charles Cornelius, a veterinary surgeon, has compiled a list of 350 animal diseases which are very similar to human diseases.

The evidence that the RDS uses to back up its case does not really address the issues. Instead, it says that after animal testing, any new drug is tested on 3-5,000 human volunteers, and that if any side effect shows up only after a drug has been put on the market, it cannot be blamed on animal testing. It says that there are 2,000 types of drug available in this country. Uncaged suggests there are 20,000, most of which are slight variations on a theme. The World Health Organisation has stated that there are just 268 drugs which are essential to human health. What are all the others?

RDS claims that less than 40 drugs have been withdrawn from the market because of adverse side effects in the UK, US, France and Germany since 1961, and of these, only 10 have been withdrawn in all four countries. Professor Croce however claims that from 1972 to June 1983, 22,621 medicinal preparations had their registrations revoked. He obtained his figures from the Italian Ministry of Health's Drug Information Bulletin. He also states that all of these potential medicines must have passed their animal test stage in order to have been granted a registration. It could be that Italian drug testing procedures are less stringent than English, American, French and German ones, but it seems likely that in these countries, many drugs pass their animal testing phase and only fail to be marketed because subsequent tests on humans reveal side effects not indicated by the animal tests. The number is likely to be in the thousands, as in Italy, but it is not in RDS's interest to report this, so we have no clear figure available. Clearly, there are different ways of telling the 'truth', which involve the statistics you choose to publish. They simply tell very different sides of the same story.

According to RDS, alternative testing methods, such as in vitro testing, computer modelling and studies of patients and populations are already extensively used. In fact, it claims that only five pence in every pound spent on medical research goes on animal studies. It says that 'alternative' methods are not really alternatives at all. It believes that there are no alternatives to animal testing, as it is important to know how different systems within the body interact. Tests on animals are there to ensure that no obviously poisonous substances are tested on human volunteers. Professor Croce's evidence suggests that animal testing is not the safeguard that the RDS claims it is, and that very many new drugs, whilst not directly harmful, are also ineffective as cures.

Animal testing is used as a defence by the manufacturers not only of drugs, but of household cleaners and other everyday substances. If a product has been tested on animals, it can be used as a defence if it causes harm to people. For example, in America, artificial sweeteners like Sweet 'N Low carry the warning "Use of this product may be hazardous to your health. This product contains saccharin which has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals." The laboratory animals in question were rats which were given saccharin in doses equivalent in human terms to 800 - 1000 cans of soft drink per day for life! Overdosing on anything is likely to produce serious harm or even death, so what does this kind of test prove? It turned out that male rats had a chemical in their bodies which caused the saccharin to crystalise in their bladders, irritating them and causing bladder cancers. Female rats were less likely to suffer the cancers, as they had less of the chemical in their bodies. However this test did nothing to show the potential dangers to humans, who do not have the same chemical present in their bodies anyway.

Other examples of highly unpleasant testing are the LD50, LD100 and Draize eye tests. LD50 is the test to show how much of a substance it takes to kill 50% of the animals being tested. LD100 finds the dosage level at which all the tested animals die. Needless to say, the 50% of animals which do not die in LD50 testing must suffer terribly from the effects of a substance which has killed the other 50%.

Clearly, many animal experiments are cruel and unnecessary, but there are also many examples of animal experimentation which have caused great advances in human medicine. Just one example is the case of diabetes. In 1889, two scientists, von Mering and Minkowski showed that removing a dog's pancreas produced diabetes. This showed for the first time that the pancreas was responsible for regulating blood sugar.

In 1921, two Canadian scientists, Banting and Best attempted to produce insulin and showed that giving insulin to a dog that had had its pancreas removed helped lower its blood sugar. Before long, James Collip, a biochemist, had extracted insulin from beef pancreas which was pure enough to be able to treat diabetic patients. He needed to find out what concentration of insulin to use, and used rabbits to carry out his tests. His extracts were used successfully in dogs and humans in 1922. The results were described by the British Medical Journal as "a magnificent contribution to the treatment of diabetes". In Britain today, there are around hundreds of thousands of diabetics who have to inject insulin and worldwide there could be as many as 30 million. A better advertisement for animal testing would be difficult to find.

Read More: In Conclusion

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